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15 May 02. Gun crews, from both the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army, have begun Operational Assessment (OA) of the BAE SYSTEMS XM777 Lightweight 155mm Howitzer.

Three prototype howitzers will be tested during OA, which will be conducted at 29 Palms, California, and is expected to run for approximately six weeks. OA is a critical step in securing approval for a low rate initial production (LRIP), expected in October 2002.

BAE SYSTEMS recently completed initial training for both US Marine Corps and US Army crews on the XM777, a prerequisite for OA. During the battery training phase, conducted May 3-5, 2002, more than a thousand rounds were fired, and numerous emplacements, displacements and movements were tested. The timelines for key operational requirements were routinely met by the gun crews during the exercises.

The rate of fire exercise demonstrated that both Marine Corps and Army crews could exceed the crew-drill maximum and sustained rates of fire per minute. All charges including the top zone 8 charge were fired. The testing was completed with no significant problems or mechanical failures experienced by the prototype howitzers.

According to U.S. Marine Corps Colonel John M. Garner, Joint Program Manager for the XM777, the howitzers and the gun crews are ready for OA. “I have commanded an M198 battalion and regiment in the past, and during the training, these four crews — two Marine Corps and two Army — would have shot rings around any M198 unit I have ever observed, using the XM777 howitzer.”

The XM777 was designed and developed by BAE SYSTEMS RO Defence. As prime contractor, BAE SYSTEMS is developing a U.S. production base in anticipation of the LRIP decision, with at least 70% of the gun manufactured in the US. The Marine Corps will be receiving 380 units beginning in May 2004; the Army, 273 guns beginning in May 2006.

Final assembly and delivery of the howitzers will be completed from
manufacturing facilities in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

The XM777 howitzer is replacing the ageing M198 howitzers in the US Marine Corps and US Army. The XM777EI, which incorporates digital fire control, will be the standard howitzer in the US Army’s Brigade Combat Teams. The XM777 is 45% lighter than the M198 and is more strategically deployable and tactically maneuverable than the M198. The XM777 can be transported by the USMC MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft.

Comment: The XM177 is much more suited to Rapid reaction operations than Crusader and is airportable by Chinook, thus enabling it to be airlifted into operational scenarios at a moment’s notice. It is also easier to transport to war zones in a C-17 or C130 aircraft type. The system is the first to be primed by a UK company in Pentagon history and is going to plan

XM177 is expected to replace the FH70 systems of the UK and Italy.

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